How Mason Became the Patriots: A Mystery Not Yet Solved


The story of how George Mason adopted the nickname “Patriots” is a mystery that has yet to be solved. It begins during the 1964-1965 academic year, the year George Mason College relocated to the Fairfax Campus. Though George Mason was not large enough to support an intercollegiate athletic program during its time at Bailey’s Crossroads – the student body never amounted to much more than two hundred – interest in sports was still high. There was a healthy intramural program during the early 1960s. Organized baseball and football were played at local school fields and in the dirt parking lot of the college during this time. Things would change as Mason moved into its permanent quarters in Fairfax and begin to grow.

Beginning during the fall of 1964 Mason fielded a basketball team to compete in the Fairfax County Men’s Recreational League. [1] According to the 1965 Advocate, the George Mason College yearbook, and a February 1965 edition of The Gunston Ledger, [2] the predecessor to today’s Broadside newspaper, the first basketball team from George Mason College went by the name “GM Chargers.” There are no records that indicate exactly how this name was chosen, but it is most likely the team itself made the choice. At that time there was no gymnasium on campus, and home games were played at nearby W.T. Woodson High School. In November 1965, while the basketball team was still called the “Chargers,” [3] the staff of The Gunston Ledger proposed that the student body choose a new “school name” for the college and teams who would become part of its budding athletics program. This, The Ledger argued, would help George Mason further distinguish itself from its parent institution, the University of Virginia. [4] The paper held a contest in which students would submit proposals for a new college “nickname;” the author of the winning name would receive a prize of five dollars. Over the next two months, the contest was conducted with little fanfare and few entries. [5]The Ledger staff would attempt to stir up interest in subsequent issues. In a December 1965 issue of The Ledger, its staff complained about the school’s lack of enthusiasm for the contest, citing that it had only received three entries. [6]One of these entries was “The Patriots.” In a January 1966 issue, the newspaper staff suggested to its readers that the word “Patriot” referred to “enthusiasts for a cause, or those who love their country and defend their ideals.” [7]

In February 1966, the publication’s staff decided to move on to the next part of the contest, which asked the student body to vote on the name they liked best. The staff created a ballot that allowed students to select a nickname from ten choices. [8] Names on this ballot included “The Chargers,” “The Marauders,” and “The Trojans.” Oddly enough, “The Patriots” did not appear on the ballot, which was printed in an April 1966 issue of The Ledger. [9] The next month it was reported that the final vote ended in a tie between “The Marauders” and “The Trojans.” [10] The paper urged more students to vote in the runoff election, pointing out that only 20% of the student body (about one-hundred sixty) participated in the name selection process.

While the particulars behind the decision were not reported in The Ledger, the “Marauders” became the official name of the George Mason College basketball team for the 1966-1967 season. [11] The first public reference to the basketball team’s new name was in a December 7, 1966 issue of The Gunston Ledger. [12] Other George Mason College teams in existence during this time included an intermural football club, a rugby team, cheerleading, and baseball. While the baseball team was called the Marauders also, the football teams were named after the team captains. Two of the football teams, “Ed’s Angels” and “Yancey’s Derringers,” were named after team captains Ed Fredette and Bill Yancey. [13] The remaining teams, like the Rugby team, were simply called “George Mason College.” The Gunston Ledger frequently gave their own nicknames names to sports teams, referring to the Mason basketball team as the “Hoopers” [14] and the rugby team as the “Ruggers.” [15] The Mason basketball team continued as “The Marauders” in both the 1967 and 1968 [16]editions of the Advocate, but the program was not given any name in the 1967-1968 George Mason College Student Handbook. [17]

The name “Patriots” reappeared when it was first attributed to George Mason’s soccer team in a November 1968 issue of The Gunston Ledger. [18] In the newspaper’s December 13, 1968 edition, Mason’s men’s basketball team was now referred to as the “Patriots” for the first time. [19] In this same issue, the lead story was about the first annual “Patriot’s Day” on campus. This was also the first time that Wayne Grandy, a sports writer for The Ledger, published an article about Mason’s basketball program. In subsequent newspaper issues, Grandy would continue to call the team “the Patriots.” The George Mason College Student Handbook for 1968-1969 [20] and the 1969 Advocate [21]also referred to the basketball team the Patriots.

Since 1969, Mason’s sports teams have consistently been known as either “the Patriots” or simply “George Mason.” Since there are no official details regarding how the “Patriots” name was given, and there have been no former students or faculty from the era have been able to recall the exact details, it is likely we may never really know for certain exactly how George Mason’s nickname became the Patriots. However, based on the clues revealed in archives of past student publications, one can at least establish a timeline that pinpoints the general period during which the “Patriots” name was finally adopted. Perhaps one day, a new piece of evidence will be uncovered allowing us to finally solve the mystery of how George Mason University became known as the “Patriots.”

[1] Advocate 1965, George Mason College Yearbook, 1965, p. 87, Yearbook Archives Box 125
[2] “Hooping It Up,” The Gunston Ledger, p. 4, February 10, 1965
[3]Advocate 1966, George Mason College Yearbook, 1966, p. 104, Yearbook Archives Box 125
[4] “Ledger Holds Contest To Choose School Name,” The Gunston Ledger, p.4, November 2, 1965
[5] “No Initiative Shown In GMC Name Contest,” The Gunston Ledger, p.4, November 24, 1965
[6] “GMC Lacks Team Name,” The Gunston Ledger, p.1, December 8, 1965
[7] “Student Fail to Respond To School Name Contest Despite Editorials Sharp,” The Gunston Ledger, January 31, 1966
[8] “Name Contest,” The Gunston Ledger, p.2, February 28, 1966
[9] "Name Contest,” The Gunston Ledger, p.2, April 5, 1966
[10] “Name Contest Undecided,” The Gunston Ledger, p.2, May 17, 1986
[11]Advocate 1967, George Mason College Yearbook, 1967, p. 144, Yearbook Archives Box 125
[12] “Mason Basketballers Set For Tough Season,” The Gunston Ledger, December 7, 1966
[13]Advocate 1967, George Mason College Yearbook, 1967, p. 133-135, Yearbook Archives Box 125
[14] “GM Crushes Fatboys, Falls Victim to Bros.,” The Gunston Ledger, February 14, 1966
[15] “Hoopers Begin Practice; Could Us[e] More Players,” The Gunston Ledger, November 16, 1967 “Mason hoopers lose 82-73 give-away to Newport College,” The Gunston Ledger, December 14, 1967
[16]Advocate 1968, George Mason College Yearbook 1968, p.86, Yearbook Archives Box 125
[17]Focal Point: The George Mason College Student Handbook, p.29-30, 1967-1968, Student Handbooks Box 104
[18] “The Letterman,” The Gunston Ledger, November 6, 1968
[19] “As I See It,” The Gunston Ledger, December 13, 1968
[20]Focal Point, George Mason College Student Handbook, 1968-1969, Student Handbooks Box 104
[21]The Advocate ’69, George Mason College Yearbook 1969, p.88, Yearbook Archives (No Box Number)
How Mason Became the Patriots: A Mystery Not Yet Solved